Thousands of soldiers sought alternative ways to reach their bases early Sunday
morning, as a new agreement between the IDF and Israel Railways that eliminates
free rides for soldiers on most trains between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. on
Sundays went into effect.
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According to the IDF, about 6,000 soldiers
opted to ride on the 243 free buses provided as an alternative to the train. The
army did not provide statistics on how many soldiers arrived at their bases on
time, but it has already promised those arriving late will not face
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The initiative was agreed on in order to save the IDF money
and to relieve the heavy crowding on Israel’s trains on Sunday mornings, when
thousands of soldiers use the rail lines to return to their bases after weekends
The new arrangement has been attacked by a number of politicians,
with Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima)
announcing the committee will not approve defense funds until soldiers are
allowed to ride the train for free again.
Mofaz’s comments came during a
visit he and other committee members made to Tel Aviv’s Savidor Center train
station Sunday morning to supervise the implementation of a new system in which
soldiers ride buses that depart from train stations.
“The State of Israel
must do everything for those that serve it,” Mofaz said, adding that Israel
Railways should prepare a multi-year plan to deal with overcrowding on trains,
rather than remove soldiers.
The committee chairman said it is
“unreasonable and irrational” to withhold the NIS 25 million per year to fund
soldiers’ train rides, and that he would not authorize funds in the joint
Finance-Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on the defense
According to MK Moshe Matalon (Israel Beiteinu), when soldiers
who are serving and fighting together cannot sit together on the way to the base
because one is wealthier than the other, it will dangerously demoralize them and
undermine the human foundation of the army.
“The army of the people,
which is meant to be an equalizing melting pot, is creating gaps between its own
soldiers,” he said.
MK Miri Regev (Likud) said if the Defense Ministry
does not act, she will work to reinstate free train rides for soldiers via
She pointed out the new arrangement will create classes
within the IDF, with those who can afford it paying to ride trains and arriving
on time to their bases.
Also, on Sunday, Regev and Kadima faction
chairwoman Dalia Itzik submitted a bill to guarantee free transportation for IDF
soldiers at all times.
According to the bill, soldiers will not be
limited in time, distance or destination when using free public
“The train shouldn’t only be for rich soldiers,” Itzik
said. “It cannot be that a wealthy soldier can pay to ride a train, while others
will ride for hours longer on buses.” The Kadima MK said she will not allow
discrimination against soldiers who contribute three years of their lives to the
state, and hopes her bill will prevent similar plans in the future.
Knesset Finance Committee plans to hold a meeting on the new policy on Monday,
with committee chairman Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud) saying: “Either the
soldiers will like the policy, or it will be canceled.”
visited the train station in Rosh Ha’ayin on Sunday, where he was told by Israel
Railways representatives that within three years, the number of train cars will
be doubled, and IDF soldiers will be probably be allowed back on the trains on
However, the Likud MKs said if soldiers are unsatisfied
with the change and are leaving their homes on Saturday night for fear of being
late to their base Sunday morning, the Knesset will make sure the new policy
will come to an end in much less than three years. He added that he plans to
order polls of soldiers in the coming weeks.
Three young female soldiers
outside the Azrieli Center train station in Tel Aviv on Saturday described the
new Sunday morning train regulations as a slap in the face, even though it
didn’t affect them personally.
All three said that while they serve in
desk jobs at the nearby Defense Ministry headquarters, they believe it’s an
insult to those who serve in the IDF.
“My brother serves in the navy
outside Haifa, he always took the train from Tel Aviv, but now, if he needs to
get there early in the morning on Sundays he’ll just go back Saturday night so
he isn’t late on Sunday,” said one of the three defense ministry soldiers Sunday
Another one of the three soldiers said she had seen soldiers
on Facebook writing about good places to hitchhike in the mornings, and said she
feared the new regulations would drive soldiers to hitch rides, exposing them to
A young, female Golani Brigade sergeant, who said that while
she lives in the Tel Aviv area and is not affected by the new regulation about
half of her friends take the train to base after weekends off. She said she is
certain that those who have the means will pay for the train rather than take
the free shuttle provided by the army, because they will not trust that the
buses will arrive nearly as quickly as the train.